We live in a hard world. Especially in the west where we are taught to be independent, self-reliant, and to look out for number one. While this has worldly benefits, over time, our hearts become hardened, we live in our heads, and rarely let our guard down. This is counter to what the spiritual life requires of us where we must learn how to be childlike, to be humble and small. A hardened heart never allows us to lead an integrated life of body, mind, and spirit. We must cultivate a soft and gentle heart.
As an Enneagram Three, a core desire for me is to feel valuable and worthwhile by just being myself without having to perform. Some of the fears that lie in the back of my mind are around being a failure, unsuccessful and inefficient. Needless to say, I’ve driven myself pretty hard most of my life. These past few years, God has gifted me with His gentleness which in turn is teaching me to be gentle with myself. I am feeling His mercy and compassion in a deeper way which softens my heart. I am becoming more authentic, and I pray, an inspiration to others, helping others to see and live in God’s goodness.
The eighth fruit of the Spirit we explore today is gentleness. What exactly is gentleness? Gentleness is sensitivity for another person. It is concerned with another’s welfare, safety, and security. It is grounded in humility. The approach is careful, tender, considerate, affectionate, and mild-mannered, free of all pushiness, roughness, or abrasiveness. This fruit of the spirit is also known as mildness. To be mild in behavior means having a heart of forgiveness and grace. It means not being easily provoked and choosing a response of meekness and peace rather than one that leads to revenge. If we think about gentleness is in terms of its opposites, we find that it is countered by a desire for revenge, a sense of self-importance, or the expression of anger.
The fruits of the Spirit are perfections that the Holy Spirit forms in us as the first fruits of eternal glory. Church tradition lists twelve: charity (love), joy, peace, patience, kindness (benignity), goodness, generosity (longanimity), gentleness (mildness), faithfulness (faith), modesty, self-control (continency), chastity. Galatians 5:22-23 Vulgate As we mature in our faith, aligning our will with God’s, all the characteristics of our spiritual fruits, including the fruit of gentleness, will grow.
Let’s look at some of the benefits of learning, understanding, and living in the fruit of gentleness:
- Gentleness is defined in the dictionary as “the quality of being kind, tender, or mild-mannered.” In terms of the fruit of the Spirit, the kind of gentleness we’re interested in involves showing humility and thankfulness towards God, as well as polite, restrained, and compassionate behavior towards everyone else.
- Gentleness is a gift of the Spirit, but as a trait it is produced when a softened heart abides in Jesus. It may be a gift, but true gentleness also demands something on our parts: intention. By this, I mean being intentionally kind, compassionate, and humble towards others, especially when they are facing struggles or difficulties.
- Like many of the spiritual gifts, gentleness is inseparable from other traits. Jesus himself connects gentleness to humility in Matthew 11:29, when He says: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
- Gentleness can also be translated as meekness, which should not be confused for weakness. Instead, meekness is the quality of having controlled strength. As Paul tells the Corinthians: “I myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ – I who am meek when face to face with you, but bold toward you when absent.” (2 Corinthians 10:1) He instructs us in the kind of attitude we must adopt when we interact with others – an attitude that is in tune with the Spirit and informed by the teachings of Jesus and His disciples.
- It is easy to be gentle when we are around those who we care for, and who care about us in return. But what about for strangers, or people who have hurt us? This is where gentleness is often confused with weakness. We fear appearing weak, fragile, or uncertain to others, and in so doing forget that maintaining a gentle attitude is a sure sign of strength. We fear their judgment if we become overcome with emotion, when we should recognize that our ability to be moved, to identify with the suffering of others, and to want to help them, make us better.
Humble and calm, with an ear toward wisdom.1 Peter 3:4
How do we cultivate the fruit of gentleness? Here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Read the Gospels. The spark of our spiritual life grows when our hearts and minds meet Jesus. The Jesus of the bible that we know and love was a gentle man. But He was not quiet, and He certainly was not a push over. Spend some time getting to know Jesus again, looking at the way He behaved and spoke to others and seeing for yourself the boldest example of gentleness.
- Start thinking about others. We must clothe ourselves in gentleness by living with less judgment and more compassion. “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” – Colossians 3:12
- Learn from Him. Jesus’ heart’s desire is that we follow and learn from Him. He avoided violence and self-righteousness. He demonstrated the power of His love with a gentle word of truth. Our world may be a harsh place, but we soften it when we follow His teachings and work for His kingdom.
- Decide to be gentle. With God’s help, we can be gentle in everything we say and do without being a quiet pushover. “You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your gentleness made me great.” (2 Samuel 22:36)
- In our conversations – When we feel the need to be “right” or have the last word, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Ephesians 4:2)
- In our friendships – If we see a friend caught in a snare of sin, we are commanded to “restore that person gently” (Galatians 6:1). This means not telling them what they should do or getting angry, but gently pointing them back towards the only person who can help with anybody’s sin.
- In our evangelism – Our words and actions need to reflect what we believe. In our zeal to share the good news with others, we need to remember that Jesus will draw people to Him through us. We don’t need to argue with people or try to force our viewpoint on others. As 1 Peter 3:15 says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” We need to show Jesus to those we are speaking too, not us.
- Forgive. To be mild in behavior is to be forgiving rather than angry, gracious rather than vengeful. The gentle person is meek; like Christ Himself, who said that “I am gentle and humble of heart” Matthew 11:29). He does not insist on having his own way or being right but yields to others for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
Gentleness is the fruit of the Spirit that demands the most from us. It means adopting a position where we effectively place ourselves third on the list – putting God and other people before ourselves. This is a hard position to sustain in our humanness. It requires humility and sacrifice, patience, and compassion – qualities that we might feel that we lack, even on our best days. But the good news is that God shows us the way.
Smitten with the fruit of gentleness,
A meditation on the necessity of a gentle response.
But even if you should suffer because of righteousness, blessed are you. Do not be afraid or terrified with fear of them but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.1 Peter 3:14-16
Today, I will remember the importance of my intentions.